In today’s society, we follow a hectic, often draining, fast-paced way of living. Whether we’re working long hours, caring for loved ones, or just walking the dog, it’s easy for us to forget to take a moment for ourselves. Some days, even the thought of setting aside five minutes to breathe seems overwhelming, but it’s something we must learn to do. When we fail to devote time to self-care, it’s easy to fall into a rut or accumulate unhealthy stress levels that will eventually cause friction in all areas of our lives. While I’m guilty of letting my tank reach empty more often than not, I try my hardest to implement positive practices into my daily schedule to keep myself grounded. If you’re looking to start your own self-care routine but you’re not sure where to start, I’ve got you covered with this brief list.
1) Keep A Journal
Some of you might roll your eyes at the thought of journaling (I know I used to), but it’s actually a very calming process of gathering your thoughts or letting go of pent-up emotions. Essentially, a journal is your very own silent counselor. You can write down anything you want and explain exactly how you feel without fear of negative feedback. And, while it’s good practice to speak to a trusted person about what is going on in your head and in your life, it’s also good practice to spend time sorting things out with yourself. Getting your thoughts and feelings down on paper not only provides a positive outlet, but allows you to look at what might be weighing you down from a different perspective.
You don’t have to journal every day for it to be effective. I try to journal every other day for about five or ten minutes (I set a timer and stop once it chimes). Carrying the journal with you or placing it next to your bed provides a great reminder for you to stop and reflect on the day.
2) Exercise Regularly
I know exercise isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but you don’t have to be a fitness expert for exercise to benefit your mind and body. Exercise consists of anything from yoga to dancing to walking to lifting weights. You just have to find what works best for you. Personally, I love to lift weights and going for a run outdoors. There’s something calming about putting all of my worries aside to devote an hour to the comfort of lifting a steel bar or the steady rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement. Someone once told me that a strong body promotes a strong mind and I’ve never had reason to doubt them.
If you don’t have time to go to the gym, that’s okay. I suggest walking to work when the weather is nice (granted you live within close walking distance) or trying some light yoga before bedtime. The focus really isn’t on physique or even weight loss, which is what many associate exercise with, but on how it can bring some healthy balance to your life.
3) Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is defined as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. Many of us are familiar with the act of being mindful of others, but we often forget to be mindful of ourselves. While mindfulness has become a more “mainstream” ideology, with plenty of books being written on the subject, I think many of these miss the true importance of the practice. When I think of mindfulness, I think of taking a few moments throughout the day to assess how I’m feeling on the inside. During this time I can pinpoint what’s dragging me down or the areas in which I’m not excelling, be it work or how I treat others. By taking a clear look at these areas, I can make a plan on how to address each issue and find a solution.
Mindfulness, in my opinion, is best practiced alone over a cup of coffee (though I’m biased due to my love of caffeine). Alone time is incredibly important, even if you can only get it in the shower or in the car on the way to work. You don’t need to sit and meditate for an hour or follow a ten-step breathing program. You just need a quiet place where you can take an honest look at the day or the week and evaluate how things are going. You’d be surprised how helpful it can be.
4) Set Boundaries
This may not be what you’d expect to see on your average self-care list but it’s something that’s incredibly important, especially where our mental health is concerned. Setting boundaries can be difficult because we’re often blind to our need for them to be in place. It’s not until we examine who or what may be affecting our daily lives negatively that we start to see changes that need to be made. For example, if you find yourself in the company of toxic people (i.e. those who belittle you, treat your concerns as invalid, etc.), some separation is in order. Instead, spend more time with the people you know are positive and encouraging. You’d be amazed at how your outlook can change with the right people around you.
Setting boundaries with things, like social media or cellphones, is also good practice. That social media rabbit hole is easy to get sucked into, but logging off for a while is like taking a breath of fresh air. The same goes for your phone. Turn it off and put it away for thirty minutes or an hour. Find something to do that engages you outside of the virtual spectrum. Read a book. Take yourself on a date. Get up and get out of your house. Make plans with a loved one. Whatever you do, make sure it gives back to your mental health in a positive way.